By Jami Scott, Paralegal and Medicaid/VA Specialist, Elder Law Associates PA
We’ve recently heard reports about some alarming scams out there targeting active service members, veterans and their spouses (or surviving spouses). Be sure to familiarize yourself with these new scams, so you don’t get caught unaware and fall victim to one of these fraudsters!
In one sophisticated scam, the widow of a veteran who receives a VA Pension and Aid and Attendance benefit received a series of emails and phone calls from a “va.gov” email (although upon closer inspection the email was part of a longer email address that did not belong to an employee at va.gov) with a name similar to a veteran who is easily found online but not famous. The signature line had a toll-free phone number that is attached to the VA, but nothing to do with Florida or our region It also had a private cell phone number that had a Florida area code. The email said the widow’s spouse had been receiving VA benefits inappropriately prior to his death. It instructed her to call the cell phone number right away to discuss the matter and to clear up any potential overpayment or underpayment. The deceased spouse had been receiving VA benefits prior to death for many years.
The widow called the cell number and a man introduced himself as a VA employee and told her that she would have to send him her bank statements and cancelled checks for the past year so that he could verify that she was receiving the money and how she was spending it. He told her that it was because there was a potential of fraud and warned her that this might result in criminal charges if she did not provide the requested information immediately. Thankfully, the widow hung up and immediately contacted her attorney, who alerted the proper authorities.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, veterans, active service members and their families were the victims of more than $338 million in fraud from scams perpetrated between 2014-2019. In a report on the AARP website, “the median loss for military scam victims in 2019, $894, was nearly triple that for the population at large.”
Just like the population at large, scam artists are targeting veterans and service members with identity theft, phishing email schemes, imposter scams, coronavirus scams, investment scams and more, with the typical goal of trying to gain access to the veteran’s government benefits. Other scams targeting veterans include:
- Being told that they qualify for benefits from “secret” government programs, but they need to pay a fee or provide their personal and financial information first;
- Offering cash payments up front for future disability or pension payments;
- Charging veterans for access to their service records or government forms (Note: Veterans can receive this information free from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and your local VA);
- Selling older veterans on plans to boost their pensions by investing in financial products that make it appear they have fewer assets, when actually this move could disqualify veterans from other government assistance such as Medicaid, and limit their access to their assets.
Fraudsters also are:
- Posing as representatives of bogus military charities asking for donations;
- Impersonating VA officials and asking for personal or financial information in order to update the veteran’s records (Note: The VA already has your information and would never call, text or email you unsolicited for your personal data. They also will never threaten you with jail or lawsuits.);
- Offering special military discounts on any number of items but requiring the veteran to wire money for a security deposit first (on vacations, products or properties that turn out to be nonexistent). Once you’ve paid, you won’t receive your item and you’ll never hear from these guys again.
As always, a good rule of thumb is to NEVER give out your personal and financial information, including your birthdate, Social Security number, credit card or financial account numbers or anything you are uncomfortable with over the phone, via email or text to anyone that you don’t know or for anything that you didn’t initiate. Before you make any charitable donations, you can research the organization on the Better Business Bureau online site or CharityNavigator. Don’t wire money to anyone you don’t know or purchase gift cards and read off the back of the card to anyone that contacts you. Finally, don’t give anyone access to your private VA information without an authorized Power of Attorney.